Sex Offender Release Rules Explained At Pound MeetingIssue Date: September 20, 2018
The approximately 40 local residents who turned out on the Monday, Sept. 17 informational meeting at Pound Town Hall appeared resigned to the fact that another convicted sex offender will be coming to live in the house at N2691 South 7th Road in the Town of Pound. Sheriff Jerry Sauve had called the meeting after being informed that Jeffrey Butler, 55, will be coming there to live on Friday, Sept. 21 on supervised release from Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wisconsin's only facility designated for treatment of sexually violent persons.
Questions at the meeting were fielded by a panel consisting of Sauve, Erica Frantz, a registration specialist with the state's sex offender registry program; Probation and Parole Agent Dawn Ragen of the local Department of Corrections (DOC) office; Corrections Field Supervisor Julie Krause, who heads the local DOC office; Mick Chase, one of Wisconsin's four DHS Contract Specialists, and Lt. Chris Lesperance of the Marinette County Sheriff's Department.
At the start of the meeting Sauve asked for everyone to remain civil, and explained that Butler will replace another sex offender who has now been returned to his home county. The home is certified as a dwelling for only two offenders at a time, according to DHS officials. The other offender currently assigned there, Aristole Farmer, is reportedly awaiting return to Outagamie County, where he had been living at the time of his conviction.
Many of the questions raised at the meeting involved hopes that at some point in the future the 7th Road house will no longer be a home for sex offenders. That appears to be possible, since they were told that currently only one other person awaiting supervised release from Sand Ridge is from Marinette County, and there does not appear to be anyone else coming up in the immediate future.
A new state law passed last year in the wake of public uproar over State Department of Health placements of violent sex offenders in locations far from their home communities requires placement of inmates on supervised release either in their home county or the county where the conviction occurred. It also requires that a local committee recommend where there supervised release home will be.
Under the new law, counties are required to establish placement committees that must include, at a minimum, the County Corporation Counsel, a representative of the county Department of Health and Human Services, a representative of the Wisconsin Department of Health, and a local probation officer. When informed that a county resident is being placed on supervised release the committee has a specified number of days to find a suitable residence for placement, and failure could result in a fine for the county.
Sauve said he was notified on Sept. 4 that this committee for Marinette County had recommended that Butler be placed in the S. 7th Road in the Town of Pound. This home had been purchased by an out of town vendor for that purpose about two years ago, and is leased to the state Department of Health for $2,000 a month.
Butler had first been assigned to live in the Pound residence in September of 2016 but that placement was halted by a ruling from Circuit Court Judge James Morrison, who found the remote rural location counter productive to goals of release, which include getting gainful employment and becoming self supporting. Morrison's ruling was recently overturned by another court.
Butler, an Iron Mountain, Mich. resident, was convicted in 1995 of first degree sexual assault of a boy for whom he had been babysitting in Niagara, Wis. He went to prison in 1995, and served there until 2006 when he was committed to Sand Ridge for treatment. He has a history of sex offense convictions dating back to 1980, when he would have been 17 or 18 years old. His record indicates repeat convictions, probably in Michigan, in 1980, 1983 and 1989, with one involving a child six years old or under.
Now, after 10 years in the Wisconsin State prison and another 10 years at Mauston, Butler has petitioned for supervised release, and those responsible for his treatment have determined that is appropriate.
Goals of supervised release are for the offenders to obtain employment, become self supporting, and be re-integrated into society.
However, for the first year at least, and frequently much longer, they are on very stringent restrictions which do not allow them to even go outdoors without supervision. Their movements are permanently monitored 24/7 by a "bracelet' GPS-device that immediately sounds an alarm if they venture into forbidden areas, for example too close to parks, schools, etc.
Since Butler does not have a home county in Wisconsin he apparently falls under the secondary consideration in a new state law that an offender can be returned to the county in which the crime he or she committed.
In response to questions from the audience, Chase said the vendor who owns the S. 7th Road home owns a total of six to eight places in Wisconsin that he rents to the State Department of Health for $2,000 to $2,800 per month. As with any other lease, even if the home is vacant, the state continues to pay rent until the annual lease is up. The rent covers just that. Heat and electricity are additional. Residents are supposed to take care of general maintenance like shoveling snow, mowing lawns, etc., but that can be difficult during the first year since they cannot be outdoors without a DOC agent supervising.
Since the rent applies whether there is one resident or two, Chase said the state tries to keep two residents there at a time as wise use of taxpayer dollars, and also because living a solitary life of isolation does not help with treatment, while having a housemate has been shown beneficial.
Chase explained the process leading up to court order for supervised release, and added that supervised transition is proven to be the safest means of integrating the offenders back into the community.
He said supervision continues for an indeterminate time, long enough to be sure the patient's exit needs are met and the community is protected.
He said the informational meetings are held, "because an educated public is a safer public."
Sheriff Sauve commented his department learned just how well the GPS monitoring bracelets work. On two occasions they were notified of a problem with a bracelet, "and we were there pronto." In each case the person wearing the bracelet was taken to Marinette county Jail until the problem was identified and resolved. It turned out that in one case the bracelet malfunction was due to a power outage, and in the other it was a mechanical malfunction.
Chase said on Sept. 29, 2016 a court ordered the state to develop a supervised release plan for Butler. DOH looked at 465 properties in Marinette County alone before approving the S.7th Road property. Then on Aug. 30 of this year the Marinette County committee identified it as the best place for Butler at this time,and the notice was sent to Sheriff Sauve, who subsequently set up the informational meeting.
The panelists discussed monitoring measures, including unscheduled visits from Probation and Parole agents,and the set of 72 rules that the clients have to abide by. Krause said she would have a hard time living by all those rules.
Ragen said for the first year at least, and probably two or three years, when clients go out, for exercise, treatment, shopping, school, church, volunteer work, etc. they are accompanied and constantly monitored, which means they are within sight, sound and touch of the person monitoring them. "They can't even sneeze without us knowing about it," she declared.
Visitors are strictly regulated, and if approved are allowed only with a monitor present. Anyone who insists the released person is innocent is not permitted to visit. It is possible after the first year for a visitor to petition for approval as a chaperone.
The offenders who get jobs are then required to pay for their ordinary living expenses, within their means, but not for treatment or supervision.
Chase said on a personal note, he lives in Marathon County and a residence is being sought there for a 1980 sex offender. He said his wife asked him if he would be comfortable if he would be placed near their home, and he said he would. "I can sleep every night knowing that the supervision works," he said.
Ragen described her duties in regard to Butler, and answered questions regarding phone calls. They cannot have internet access. The phones are land lines, and she makes sure all callers know the full details before conversations are allowed.
She said everyone works together as a team, involving DHS, DOC and Sheriff's Department people. If an offender is to attend school classes the school is fully informed. The GPS systems are linked to the Sheriff's Department, her office, and DHS monitors in Madison. Any attempt to tamper will set off an immediate response. Chase told of a monitor being triggered by vibrations of a riding lawn mower.
Asked if any of the offenders on supervised release actually do get jobs, Chase told of one who is doing really well at a job he has held for two years. Asked about transportation to and from work from the Pound residence, Chase said they would take him to the job center, and to and from work until the patient is able to get a driver's license and a car. They would be monitored at work as well, at least at the start.
Neither of the Pound residents has gotten a job, one of them because he was waiting to go back to his home county. They can stay on supervised release as long as they want, but must agree to stay for at least three years.
Asked about the average per patient cost of this type of supervised release, Chase said he did not know that amount but believed it could be obtained. He said it is far less than the cost of keeping them at Sand Ridge.
Judge Clifford Patz asked how long it takes to get a warrant if there is a violation of the GPS monitor, and Sauve replied, "that's immediate."
Krause said response time of the Sheriff's department has been excellent, and the home has been very quiet. Sauve stressed that no harassment has happened, and none will be tolerated. He said most people in the area are well aware of who lives there and why they are there.
There was a question raised about Halloween, and Krause replied all sex offenders are on special restrictions during Halloween, particularly during Trick or Treat hours. They are not allowed to have porch lights on, put out decorations, or even answer the door. "All sex offenders are on lock down unless they have verified employment," she added.
Those at the meeting were told that if Farmer is moved to Outagamie County a second offender might be placed in the S. 7th Road home by Christmas.
Once released a Sand Ridge patient is ordered by a court, the county committee gets 120 days to locate a place for them to live and submit it to the court. DHS then has 30 days to determine if the residence is sufficient, and if necessary can give the county another 30 days for a placement.
If the home becomes vacant DHS can end the lease after each 12-month term.
Some of the questions indicated a bit of sympathy for the individuals on supervised release.
Asked what these men do without jobs or outside contacts, and if perhaps they could be encouraged to raise a garden, Chase agreed that recreation is a big part of treatment, but repeated that during the first year the offenders are allowed to go outside only when supervised, and then only for treatment or necessary activities. Pets are also not allowed.
Chase said at Sand Ridge there are recreation specialists on staff who help offenders develop hobbies, which helps with their recovery.
Asked if any of the people on supervised release has asked to go back to Sand Ridge, Chase said some do talk about it, but none has actually asked to do it.
Sheriff Sauve said inmates who have been in state prison and then are sent to Marinette County Jail for one reason or another can't wait to get back to prison. "They don't like jail because there's nothing to do," he said.
As the meeting ended Sauve invited anyone who thinks of questions later to call him.
Krause stressed that education and safety consciousness are the keys to keeping families safe. She urged parents to train their kids, "if something doesn't feel right, it's probably not."
Safety handouts were available in the meeting room.
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